Even though the summer is over, it is never late to travel and to build travel apps. As usual we try to look at the leaders on the market and then build our own product, in this case a travel guide and a hotel & flights booking app. We should always remember to offer something new to a constantly craving for a better experience, user, either design-wise or technology-wise. We have experience in mobile travel app development and therefore will be happy to help you build your own app of the kind. So let’s take a trip to TripAdvisor, Expedia, KAYAK, Triposo and others to see what it takes to develop a travel app.
Where to take travel info from?
Unfortunately, becoming Christopher Columbus in the sphere of travel apps content is not only hardly possible (I can’t contradict the “all is possible” life rule), but also doesn’t make much sense. A lot has already been created and discovered, so travel app developers can allow themselves to take full advantage of it.
There are big open content sites like World66 travel guide, where people from all over the planet can write about the places they love, created by volunteers OpenStreetMap, a human-edited directory of the Web DMOZ, Wikivoyage, and Wikipedia. You take those and pump out the travel information you need, organize it the way you like it and your app is up and running.
A travel app Triposo fetches gigabytes of travel related content from those open source sites and applies clever algorithms to generate their travel guides based on what is relevant for travels. Then as a user travels around the world, the app adjusts to location and tailors recommendations for destinations in real time.
It’s almost certainly easier to acquire and tap into services that have already been built, rather than develop everything from scratch.
Some places APIs for your travel app
Google Places is probably the best choice if think in worldwide categories. It features 95 million businesses and points of interest. All of them get frequently updated through owner-verified listings and user moderated contributions.
A particularly powerful feature of the Google Places API is Places Autocomplete. It returns place predictions in response to an HTTP request. Autocomplete functionality is provided for text-based geographic searches, by returning places such as businesses, addresses and points of interest as a user types.
Factual’s Global Places data covers over 65 million local businesses and points of interest in 50 countries. Factual’s key source of data are their partners who provide edits and updates back to Factual. The service also offers location-based mobile personalization and ad-targeting solutions, data cleaning and mapping services for business listings and points of interest.
Yelp API with its reviews and photos together with data listings is a great choice for the USA market, where Yelp has a big coverage. Though it is extending its services to international cities.
CityGrid APIs contain more than 18 million US local listings. CityGrid has a program for partners called Places that Pay. You can publish CityGrid place pages and get paid when your users engage with the content of certain places.
Foursquare APIs allow to search for places and access information about them without user authentication and free. They also include venue push and user push APIs, that let venue managers and developers respectively get real-time notifications when their users check in anywhere.
TripAdvisor API provides access to a huge database of user-generated content and makes available traveler photos, detailed reviews and rating data for accommodations, attractions, restaurants and destination content. Though if you consider travel app development using TripAdvisor's API, you will require a partner key to be able to access it, as it's not publicly available.
Speaking of the reviews, be cautious with TripAdvisor. It has recently come under fire for allegedly failing to prevent fake reviews. Some hotels pay reviewers to post positive reviews without ever stepping foot in the establishment. Fake reviews eventually create angry customers, which you don’t need.
How to make transactions
Automated transactions between third parties and booking agents in order to provide travel-related services to the end consumers are enabled through Global distribution systems. These companies play the role of a link between services and distributors who promote and sell them.
Global distribution systems originated from computer reservation systems, that were created by airlines (e.g. Sabre was created by American Airlines in 1960). In order to make their systems accessible to consumers through Internet gateways, airlines divested most of their direct holdings to dedicated GDS companies.
Big travel sites like Expedia use multiple global distribution systems to book airline tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals, cruises, vacation packages, various attractions and services along with its own hotel reservation system for contracted, bulk-rate reservations. Those global distribution systems include Amadeus, which is the largest transaction processor in travel, serving more than 195 countries, the Sabre reservation systems for flights and for hotels, Worldspan which is a part of Travelport GDS and Pegasus Solutions - the single largest processor of electronic hotel transactions.
How to monetize?
Usually travel apps monetize by doing hotel, tour and flights bookings for airline companies and travel agencies. Some travel applications also rely on the advertising model.
Hipmunk, for example, makes money by collecting commissions for directing flight and hotel purchase traffic to airlines, hotels and other travel search websites. The app compares information from all the top hotel and travel sites, like Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, airbnb and others.
KAYAK simplifies a user’s search process by providing price comparison for a flight, a hotel or other travel product. It acts as a sales channel for numerous travel agencies’ and supplier websites. Once users select a flight, hotel or other travel product, KAYAK directs them to the travel supplier or an online travel agency to complete the purchase. User can proceed with booking without leaving the app.
Along with the best fare search solution, Kayak also has travel management tools and services, such as flight status updates, pricing alerts, itinerary management, etc.
Travel app development is the subject of our experience. One of the travel apps we built is focused on promoting destination and festivals. The key function of the app is to provide event search. The app also has festival tickets and hotel bookings through redirection to the company owned website. I can’t tell you the name of it for our client’s privacy reasons.
Travel apps are close to event planning apps. If you are interested in how to make an app with a bias on events, you can check Eventbrite’s underlying technology.
A few words about offline maps
Maps in the travel apps can be of two types: online and offline.
Integrating an online map into your travel app is a must, but offline maps will make it far more attractive.
Google Maps provide caching inherently, but a user can access the offline functionality only in online mode. What is more, maps get updated after 30 days, and will not be available, unless the user repeats the ‘save for offline’ process.
MapBox SDK, both for iOS and Android offers great toolsets for building mapping applications for iPhone, iPad and Android devices with great flexibility for visual styling, offline use, and customizability. MapBox is a great alternative to iOS MapKit framework and a serious rival for Google maps. Their library lets you use Mapbox, OpenStreetMap, and other tile sources in your app, as well as overlays like GeoJSON data and interactive tooltips.
What is more, for adding maps, hosted on their server, MapBox has integration with Apple’s MapKit called MBXMapKit. MBXMapKit provides tile overlays, annotations, and an offline map downloader so you can easily display maps from Mapbox both online and offline.
The MapBox Android SDK also supports offline maps - see the MBTilesLayer and its JavaDoc documentation in your Integrated Development Environment for details.
Another good option with offline maps functionality is Nutiteq SDK. It has all the features that Google Maps have, including tilted/rotated map, as well as some extra features like 3D buildings and freedom to select any map source. See the comparison between Nutiteq and Google Maps SDK on Android / Apple MapKit. The app Like a Local Guide, which I have already mentioned in my article about event planner apps technology, works with Nutiteq maps. Their SDK is also used by Genova Official Guide - a travel guide for Genova city and Moovit - a public transport trip planner app that uses crowdsourced public transit data.
Those are just some offline maps options that can help in travel application development, but there are other ways you can integrate offline maps. If you are curious, let us know.
In case you are interested in other features, such as weather, transport booking, packing lists, currency converters, etc., all that can also be implemented without any problem.